Authors: Richard Paul Evans
The next morning I got up at sunrise and went to the hotel's fitness center. The room was small, with one wall that was all mirrors, presumably to make the space seem less claustrophobic.
There wasn't a lot to work with; a set of barbells, an elliptical, a treadmill, and a stair climber. In the corner of the room a television hung from the ceiling. It was on, tuned to a sports channel.
I draped a hand towel around my neck, then got on the treadmill. I put in my earbuds, turned Josh Groban on my iPod, then turned the treadmill on to a slow jog.
About twenty minutes into my run a man walked in. He was maybe a decade older than me, handsome with short, dark hair and bright blue eyes partially obscured by tortoiseshell-framed glasses. He looked fit, not especially muscular, but nicely proportioned.
He smiled at me as he walked over to the elliptical. Before he got on the machine he turned back to me and said something I couldn't hear. I took out an earbud. “Excuse me?”
“Would you mind if I changed the channel on the television?”
“No, go ahead. I'm not watching.”
I put my earbud back in while he changed the channel from sports to a cooking show, which, I suppose, wasn't what I expected. I would have pegged him as a sports or politics guy.
As he worked out I glanced over at him several times. Once I caught him looking at me. He didn't immediately turn away but smiled pleasantly.
About five minutes before I ended my workout, my towel slipped off my neck, falling to the track. Without thinking I reached for it and, with the machine's momentum, fell to my knees and was promptly ejected off the back of the track, leaving me sprawling on the floor. My iPod flipped across the room.
The man quickly came to my aid.
“Are you hurt?”
My face was crimson as I got up on my knees. “Just my pride.”
He offered me his hand. “That can be painful too.” He helped me up.
“You're welcome.” He stooped over and picked up my iPod. “I believe this is yours.”
“Don't mention it.” He returned to his elliptical.
I was too embarrassed to finish my workout, so I threw my towel into a woven basket and walked back to my room.
Smooth, Kim. Real smooth,
Way to impress the cute guy.
Not that it mattered. Chances were that I wouldn't see him again.
I got back to my room at a quarter to eight, which gave me just enough time to shower and dress before breakfast. This time, before I left my room, I put on my wedding ring, just in case I encountered John Grisham again. In the dining room, Samantha was already sitting at a table with a plate of food. She looked pretty.
“Morning, sunshine,” she said as I walked over.
“Good morning. What's good?”
“Everything I've tried so far. It's buffet-style. Personally, I'm into the French toast sticks.” Her plate was loaded with French toast covered in powdered sugar. “There's also a guy making omelets. Pretty tasty.”
“The omelets or the guy making them?”
“Both. I think he's Cuban. He's got a cute accent.”
I walked over to the food tables. She was right; everything did look good, including the omelet guy. I took an orange, a small bowl of oatmealâwhich I loaded with walnuts, brown sugar, and raisinsâgrabbed a coffee and creamer, and carried everything back to the table. Samantha had powdered sugar on her lips.
“So after you went back to your room last night,” she
said, “I went back into the party to do some reconnaissance. A lot of these people are like writers' conference junkies. They all go to the same conferences and hang out.”
“That explains why they all seem to know each other.”
“The good thing is that everyone agreed that this is their favorite conference. And there's a betting pool on whether your boyfriend is going to show up or not. They're giving two-to-one odds that he's a no-show.”
“Oh,” I said, feeling awful to be reminded of that possibility. I took a bite of oatmeal, then said, “I can't believe that he might not come.”
“If he doesn't, we've definitely got grounds for a lawsuit,” Samantha said. “Walt's got a good lawyer.”
We ate for a while longer, then Samantha glanced down at her watch. “It's almost time. We need to go if we want good seats.”
I quickly downed my coffee, then stood. “Let's go.”
“Did you bring the manuscript you plan to work on?”
“No. Do I need it?”
“Well, yeah,” she said. “It was in the instructions. Go get your manuscript and I'll save us some seats.”
With that she took off and I walked back to my room to get my book. My one pathetic, measly book.
The conference has begun.
Kimberly Rossi's Diary
The grand ballroom was now brightly lit and filled with chairs. Perry Como Christmas music was playing over the sound system as I walked in, and a crowd of conference attendees, probably double what had been at the evening's reception, milled about visiting or hunting for seats. I spotted Samantha standing near the middle of the third row waving at me. I had to slide past a long line of knees to reach her.
“Good thing I came when I did,” she said. “These people are serious about saving places. I sat in one chair and a woman yelled at me. These were the last good seats left.”
“Thank you for saving them,” I said, taking my seat.
“No worries,” she said.
We still had ten minutes before the presentation, so I opened my packet and rooted through it. “Have you looked through all this stuff?” I asked.
“Do you know anything about these workshops?”
“Just what I read in the packet.” She lifted her own program. “ââYou will meet daily with the same designated group of writers, where you will share, discuss, and critique your works.'â”
“That sounds painful,” I said.
“All artists must suffer,” Samantha said. “It is the artist's blood that lubricates the rails of artistic expression.”
“Where did you hear that?”
“I just made it up.”
“That's pretty good.”
“Thank you,” she replied. “What group are you in?”
She frowned. “I'm in F. As in
“They're groups, not grades.”
“I want to be in the same group as you. Do you think they'd let me switch?”
“It doesn't hurt to ask.” I glanced around. “If you can find someone to ask.”
Samantha looked around the room for a moment, then said, “That woman up there looks important. Hold my seat.” She made her way out of our row and walked up to a woman who was standing next to the stage. They spoke only briefly before Samantha turned and walked back. She looked distraught. “That hurt to ask,” she said, sitting.
“What did she say?”
“She said they positively don't allow changes.”
“It's just one class a day,” I said.
“Which roughly equates to one-quarter of the conference,” Samantha said.
“Maybe the F group is the place to be.”
Suddenly the music stopped and the room lights dimmed, leaving just the stage bathed in light. The crowd quieted in
anticipation as a middle-aged woman in a satin periwinkle business suit walked out to a lectern in the center of the stage.
She tapped the microphone, then leaned forward. “Good morning, writers, and welcome to the Mistletoe Inn Writers' Conference. My name is Jill Tanner and I am this year's conference chairperson. We've spent an entire year putting together what we think is the finest schedule of classes and presentations in the country, with one sole objective, to help you reach your goal of becoming a successful published author.”
The audience broke out in applause. She waited for the room to quiet before she continued.
“Never degrade yourself by saying you're
a romance writer, for nothing is out of the realm of a romance writer. Romance can take place in mystery, politics, science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Indeed, it's the core of nearly all writing. It is the genre of some of the greatest writers of all time: Shakespeare, Austen, and Hemingway. If the public does not take the genre seriously it's only because too many romance writers don't take it seriously. There are good romance writers and bad romance writers and fifty shades of gray between them.”
The audience chuckled at the allusion.
The woman smiled. “A little aside: I met a writerâI swear I'm not making this upâwho was writing a spicy Amish romance called
Fifty Shades of Hay
. God is my witness, I couldn't make that one up.”
The audience laughed again.
“But as I was saying, there are good romance writers and there are bad romance writers. A good romance writer is one who opens up our hearts to the possibility of love. Every year more than two billion dollars' worth of romance novels are sold worldwide. In America alone, more than sixty-four million people will read at least one romance this year. That number has risen steadily each year since we began holding this conference sixteen years ago.
“What this tells me is that we live in a world hungry for love. You, the world's future romance authors, are the providers of the nourishment this world needs. On behalf of the Mistletoe Inn Writers' Conference Committee, we wish you well with your writing and the best of luck on your publishing journey. Now go forth and change the world.”
The crowd broke out in wild applause. As she left the stage another woman walked out. It was the same woman whom Samantha had approached.
“Good morning. I'm Kathryn Nebeker, this year's vice chairperson of content. Hopefully you all have your registration packets with you. If you do, please hold them in the air.”
We all held up our packets.
“Good. I see most of you have them. One of the things that makes the Mistletoe Inn Writers' Conference such a success is our unique format. We've been told that there is a writers' conference in California that is now trying to
our format. You know what they say about imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, but we writers have another name for it: plagiarism.”
“At any rate, part of what makes our conference unique is our daily workshops. These workshops allow one-on-one time with our experienced facilitators and your fellow writers, giving you the chance to improve and develop your work right here at the conference.
“If you look inside your packets you will find a yellow half sheet of paper that looks like this.” She held up a yellow page with a large letter
printed on it in black. “Your page will have a letter that indicates which workshop you will be attending each day with the location of where you will meet. I cannot overemphasize that it is vital that you attend the workshop to which you have been assigned. Just this morning I had someone come to me to request a change of workshops. This late in the game we cannot accommodate changes.”
I glanced over at Samantha, who was staring at the woman hatefully. “Witch,” she whispered.
“If for some reason you do not have your card in your packet, we have posted your name with your group letter on papers right outside these doors.
“Again, we are very happy to have you here and I echo the words of Jill, our president, and say, writers, go forth and change the world. Best of luck and enjoy the conference.”
The crowd again applauded. As she walked away, the room lights went up and the Christmas music came back on. We all stood and began filing out to our workshops.
“I hate that woman,” Samantha said.
“She's just trying to keep things running smoothly,” I said.
“She doesn't have to be such a witch about it.”